The Arts of Tragedy and Nudity

Frame by frame, scene by scene; the drama unfolded. As he stood there, at the entrance of the hall, listening to his own obituary, his eyes gave a haunting look. What followed was one of the classic tragic songs of Hindi cinema, full of pain and angst. I am talking about the scene from Guru Dutt’s classic Pyaasa, where the protagonist discovers in the end that the ungrateful world has declared him, a living entity, a dead man. This movie and several other tragic masterpieces underline a simple fact: Tragedy is perhaps the most captivating of all the emotions art can invoke in our hearts and minds.

Tragedy, coupled with nudity, is perhaps the most intriguing of art forms. Tragedy captures the angst and the anger against the circumstances and the world at large. It depicts the rise and fall of a tragic hero through the struggles that prove that everyone, in the end, is indeed human. In this way, tragedy is more real than purely romantic stories and heroic versions. How can one forget one of the greatest of all tragic heroes, Oedipus or Dr Faustus? Dr Faustus was indeed a path breaking play depicting a man who sells his soul to the devil in return for power and knowledge.

Tragedy, right from Greek to Shakespearean and finally to modern, has invoked strong passions. Love, hate, romance and intimacy: all find their places in tragedy. Othello, Romeo and Juliet etc. plays depict love through the eyes of tragedy. Passionate emotions such as love, sex, hate and physical intimacy have always been ‘in vogue’ as far as tragic plays go. However, angst of the common man has become a major theme of modernist tragedy. This has been highlighted rather skillfully by Arthur Miller in his famous essay “Tragedy and the Common Man”.

Moving from tragedy, the other strong motivation for art has always been nudity. No-one can possibly forget the famous painting “Vitruvian Man” by Da Vinci. It depicts a naked man as a symbol of proportion showing nine geometrical measurements. Picasso and other famous artists also have used naked body as a subtle expression of art. Picasso’s “the Embrace” and “la Vie” are some of the most famous naked art works.

The human body, in its purest form has always inspired artists. In ancient Greece, athletes used to compete naked during Olympics. They celebrated their free existence. Naked human body has never been an object of lust or plain desire in the realm of art. It has always been viewed in aesthetic sense. It has a sensuous feeling attached to it which gives rise to a passion to celebrate freedom through love: for life or art or anything else. Examples include our very own Ajanta and Ellora caves. Unfortunately, somewhere down the line, we lost that sense and equated nudity to lust and something bad.

If there is one tragic fact about nudity today, it is our mindset. During Renaissance in Europe, nudity was a celebrated art. It depicted the freedom from archaic beliefs of the church. It was the time of great visionaries like Galileo, Da Vinci, Copernicus, Newton etc. Maybe we need that movement all over again.

Art has always been an essential part of our lives. The freedom of expression that an art form can provide is hard to match. And tragedy and human body always sit at the top of art masterpieces. Probably that is why when Ursula Andress walked out from the Caribbean Sea in a white bikini in the first bond movie ‘Dr No’, she created history.

Mayank Sharma

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